Fats often get a bad reputation for their role in obesity. However, the truth is far from it – the abuse of any food group is harmful for the body. They are an essential nutrient in daily diet, though it needs to be consumed in moderation, as with all food. It is a calorie dense nutrient which provides 38 kJ of energy per gram. They are important source of energy and required for new cells, especially for the formation of their membrane. Consuming them is important during winter months to ensure the body is supplied with ample energy to remain warm. They are also required for healthy production of hormones and their absorption within the human body.
The Types of Fats
Fats can be divided into 4 major categories. They are different in terms of their chemical composition and physical properties as well as numerous other factors such as flavor, texture, effects on health, etc.
1. Monounsaturated Fats
Found in plant foods like nuts, avocados, olive oil, and canola oil, and in poultry
Monounsaturated fats have the entirety of carbon atoms in one chain in single bond with the exception of a singular double bond. They are good for lowing the cholesterol levels in the body, which helps reduce the risk of heart diseases.
Food sources: Avocado, canola oil, poultry meat, olive oil.
2. Polyunsaturated Fats
Polyunsaturated fats have two or more carbon and carbon double bonds in their hydrocarbon chains. They are also considered healthy and help in reducing cholesterol in blood, which can end up as plague deposits in arteries.
Food source: Fatty fish, walnuts, sunflower seeds, soybeans.
3. Saturated Fats
Saturated fats are normally termed as unhealthy, but the reality lies in their general misuse. Overeating them increases the LDL levels (bad cholesterol) in blood, which gives rise to many health complications.
Food sources: Butter, whole milk, cheese.
4. Trans Fats
Trans fats are a controversial topic. While they are indeed found in small quantities naturally, they have been mass produced artificially, which has drastically increased their production. They are also linked to heart diseases. Its most notable form nowadays is the margarine. In their natural state, they have a cis rather than trans configuration. Hydrogenation of unsaturated fats using a catalyst results in an isomerization reaction which converts the cis double bonds into trans double bonds. Ultimately, add stability and provide better characteristics such as melting points and solidification.
Food sources: Crisco, margarine, vegetable shortenings.
Losing Weight While Eating Fats
As mentioned earlier, eating fats is not the problem – it is the lack of restraint. For one, they are more sating than any other food group. They fill the stomach and stop the cravings for more. If you eat healthy (and even saturated ones in moderation) while counting the calories and exercising a little, they are extremely beneficial for the body. A great example would be the keto diet. It involved caloric consumption from 30 percent proteins and the rest from fats while completely eliminating carbohydrates from diet. The problem lies in processed carbohydrates which are readily absorbed by the body, converted to brown fat and deposited as adipose tissue in the body. Instead of completely cutting back on fat, it is recommended to do a dietary check and integrate more healthy fat food sources in everyday consumption.
Caloric Value of Different Fats Categories
Carbohydrates and proteins contain 4 calories per gram. Fats contain much more, at 9 calories per gram. All categories of fat have the same amount of calories. Many people tend to opt for fat reduced or zero fat food alternatives without checking their constituent ingredients. More than often, they contain additional carbohydrates and processed sugars which are less healthy than the fat itself. Moreover, reducing the amount of trans and saturated category while replacing them with polyunsaturated and monounsaturated ones ensures they do not increase LDL levels.
Staying Healthy and Eating Fats
Fats are not unhealthy, as the real problem lies in eating habits rather than the nutrients. Excessively consuming them without restraint or physical activity will ultimately cause them to be deposited in the body. As there is no need to use the calories then, they are stored as adipose tissue to be used later, which causes obesity. Saturated kinds have been linked with high blood pressure and cholesterol only when they have not been paired with proper exercise and dietary control. As a macro nutrient, theyare necessary for energy, cellular growth and absorption of vitamins. As such they should not be eliminated from everyday life but should be consumed moderately.